By Hadi Fornaji
Tripoli, 3 August 2013:
The US embassy in Tripoli is one of 21 American diplomatic missions in Muslim countries that . . .[restrict]will be closed tomorrow because of an unspecified threat of terrorist attack.
A statement on the embassy’s web site said that the State Department: “has been apprised of information that, out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting our installations, indicates we should institute these precautionary steps. Embassy Tripoli will be closed on Sunday, August 4.”
The embassy closure comes on top of a repeat yesterday of an alert to all US citizens, particularly those travelling in the Middle East and North Africa, to be on their guard against terrorist attack for the next month. The embassy has recommended joining the State Departments “Smart traveler Enrollment Program” which both feeds security and travel updates to members and makes it easier for US embassy or consular officials to contact their nationals.
Though officials in Washington refuse, as a matter of policy, to go into details of security threats, there has been widespread speculation that US diplomats in the Yemen could be the target. The British embassy in the capital Sana’a is closing tomorrow and Monday as are the French and German missions. The British foreign office said that its embassy closure was “in response to a specific threat.” US security analysts have been quoted on local networks, saying that there had been a marked increase in communications “chatter” between terrorist suspects, which has in the past been a precursor of an attack.
A senior State Department official was today reported to have said that the closure of US missions could perhaps be extended “for days” rather than simply for tomorrow. This has not been confirmed officially.
Meanwhile Interpol has issued a global security alert following recent jail breaks in Libya, Pakistan and Iraq which it said it believed all had a high level of al-Qaeda involvement. It asked its 190 member countries to help it “determine whether any of these recent events are coordinated and linked,” and to immediately report any signs of terrorist activity. Libya is a member of Interpol.
The US embassy here has said that any citizens requiring emergency assistance should call the duty officer at 218-91-379-456.
Meanwhile on Saturday, Interpol issued a global security alert in connection with large jailbreaks the international police body said freed hundreds of “terrorists and other criminals” in nine different nations.
Interpol said it suspects Al Qaeda involvment in several of the breakouts.
It asked its 190 member nations to help Interpol “determine whether any of these recent events are coordinated and linked,” and to immediately report any signs of terrorist activity.
Interpol noted that August marks the anniversary of deadly militant attacks in Mumbai, Gluboky, Russia and Jakarta.
It also said this week marks “the 15th anniversary of the US Embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in which more than 200 mostly African citizens were killed and 4,000 others injured.”
Washington’s global alert — near the end of Islam’s Ramadan fasting month — appears to be linked to Al Qaeda electronic communications that have been intercepted by US intelligence this week, The New York Times reported, describing attacks that would be centered on American interests in the Middle East and North Africa.
“A decision to close this many embassies and issue a global travel warning for a month suggests the threat is real, advanced and imminent but the intelligence is incomplete on where,” Brookings Institution scholar Bruce Riedel told the Times.
The US will close a number of embassies and consulates, mostly in the Middle East, on Sunday in response to an unspecified threat, officials say.
A state department spokeswoman said the order applied to any embassy or consulate normally open on Sunday.
In the Muslim world, Sunday is a work day. In other parts of the world US diplomatic offices are shut on Sunday.
Last year on 11 September, the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked, leaving four Americans dead.
Other embassies are routinely targets of protesters.
“We have instructed all US embassies and consulates that would have normally been open on Sunday to suspend operations, specifically on August 4th,” a senior state department official told the BBC.
“It is possible we may have additional days of closing as well.”
The official said the state department had “been apprised of information” leading it to these “precautionary steps… out of an abundance of caution”.
US Representative Ed Rogers, chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, told CNN the threat was related to al-Qaeda.
“It’s my understanding that it is al Qaeda-linked, all right, and the threat emanates in the Middle East and in Central Asia,” Mr Royce said.
An unnamed US official earlier told the broadcaster the threat was “credible and serious”.
CBS News reported that among those affected by closure would be the embassies or consulates in Bahrain, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
Last year, the attack on the facility in Benghazi led to the deaths of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens, as well as three other US consulate staff.